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Friday 29 August 2014

'Powerful' elite wants to nobble bank probe

PAC chairman McGuinness warns of efforts to water down banking inquiry

John Drennan, Jody Corcoran

Published 12/05/2013 | 05:00

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John McGuinness

THE chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), John McGuinness, has warned that "powerful people" would prefer an inquiry into the collapse of the banks "never happened or was watered down to the point of being worthless".

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And  economist Colm McCarthy says that almost five years on, the absence of accountability for the banking collapse has had "real economic consequences".

Mr McCarthy says that unless the Government promises to meet clear recommendations for further inquiry, it should consider a second referendum to re-empower the Oireachtas.

He writes: "Public willingness to accept unavoidable cutbacks and tax increases is diluted by the perception that bankers, regulators and public officials have not been asked to account publicly for their role in the affair.

"The authority of the Government is weakened and the credibility of snake-oil purveyors enhanced. It is entirely possible that some of the 'won't pay' mortgage defaulters find some moral justification in the failure to account for the banking debacle."

Mr McGuinness, meanwhile, said that the "powerful people" to whom he referred did not want the "experience and independence" of the PAC to be brought to bear on any inquiry into the banks.

If the inquiry could not be stopped, he warned, delays would be the order of the day and every obstacle would be put before the committee to "prevent it doing the work quickly and well".

He also claimed that attempts were being made "to discredit me, undermine my position as chairman of the PAC and damage the PAC's efforts to investigate".

Specifically, Mr McGuinness referred to reports that €250,000 had been spent on renovating his office when he was a Minister of State and the publication of vouched and audited expenses from six years ago "shortly".

Mr McGuinness has insisted that he had no part in the costing or fit-out for the work to his office. He has maintained that he gave the go-ahead after seeing the broad outline of the plans and that the work was complete when he returned from the summer break.

Almost five years on from the banking collapse, Mr McCarthy said that the heavy defeat of the last government "to an extent" showed that the political leadership had been held accountable.

However, he continued: "Too little has been revealed about the State's dealings with the European Central Bank and about decision-making regarding the treatment of subordinated and unguaranteed bondholders.

"Moreover, the limited official inquiries undertaken to date have shed no light whatsoever on what happened within each of the failing banks in the years leading up to the eventual bust."

Mr McCarthy added that after three limited official reports, "each valuable in its own way", there had been no bank-by-bank inquiry into what went wrong.

"None of the banks has seen fit to report even to their own shareholders. For the record, those who held shares in AIB, Anglo, Bank of Ireland and Irish Permanent have lost 100 per cent, 100 per cent, 99 per cent and 100 per cent of their money respectively, without the courtesy of an explanation," he said.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, is to shortly introduce legislation designed to facilitate a parliamentary inquiry into the banking crisis.

Controversy has arisen as to whether the inquiry should come under the remit of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee or the Finance Committee, under the chairmanship of Labour TD Ciaran Lynch.

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, has said the banking inquiry would not be "politically motivated".

He said the inquiry was needed to establish whether public bodies involved had discharged their responsibilities, adding: "Our economy and our society suffered a catastrophic impact from what happened."

Asked if the timing of the inquiry would suit the Government, with local and European elections due in 2014, Mr Bruton said it was not "politically motivated".

Mr McGuinness says today that the inquiry should be conducted by the PAC, which he has said is "the committee best qualified to investigate".

Fianna Fail last week urged the Government not to focus solely on the infamous night of the bank guarantee in its inquiry. The party's Finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, said the probe "should deal with the root causes" of the bust, as well as the decision taken in the early hours of September 30, 2008.

Fianna Fail's Public Reform spokesman, Sean Fleming, argued last month: "In one way a banking inquiry would give the likes of Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern an opportunity to put their side on the record. No politician has anything to fear. On the other hand, it would show how inept the advice from the Department of Finance and the Central Bank was."

Mr McGuinness said: "The fact that Fianna Fail ministers or taoisigh may be called to this or any other inquiry does not concern me. I do not feel compromised in any way. They know what my obligations are. If they don't, I do."

Meanwhile, Mr McCarthy said that Mr Howlin's legislation should be judged on its merits when it appears. He said: "If it results in a constrained and partial inquiry, followed by a heavily lawyered report, this could sour the public mood even further."

He added: "The Government's inability to carry a referendum restoring the powers of parliamentary inquiry following the Abbeylara judgement means that, barring a new referendum, the parliamentary investigation may be unable to draw conclusions about where responsibility lies."

Irish Independent

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